Desk Officer Peter Wilson visited Project Trust’s Volunteers in South Africa in November. Here are five things he learned:

Project Trust Gap Year South Africa

Project Trust Volunteers on their gap year in South Africa

1 – South Africa is one of Project Trust’s biggest country programmes in terms of the number of volunteers and there are a huge variety of projects available there from teaching, to social care, to Outward Bound. It means there isn’t anything specific in the volunteering roles which define the Volunteer experience in South Africa, but what does link all the projects is adding value to the host organisations. Volunteers add to the existing skill base at projects, be that through English language, extracurricular activities or just having the time and enthusiasm to support the work of other members of staff. We’re seeing great progress in projects where Volunteers are working with nursery-age children who have grown up in care to help them enter primary school at the same educational level as children who have been brought up in family homes – it’s a great example of how Volunteers are adding value to young peoples’ lives.

2 – This is my third year as South Africa Desk Officer. It is interesting going back to projects multiple times – it’s at a stage now where the young people the Volunteers are working with recognise me and they gave me a really warm welcome when I arrived. It’s a very fulfilling experience because you know you’ve been a part of the Volunteers’ making a positive impact on their lives for a sustained period of time. I hadn’t expected it at all, and it was a really lovely surprise.

3 – Two of our long-running projects in South Africa are Bethany Children’s Home and Tembelihe Children’s Home, both in Mthatha, which have been running for 13 and 10 respectively. Seeing the duel benefit of those projects, for the young people in the children’s homes and the Project Trust Volunteers, sustained year-on-year is really amazing. Prior to working with Bethany and Tembelilhe, we sent volunteers to a project called Ikhwezi Lokusa since 1979, with the common link being the Sisters at the Convent who have been of great support to us for all these years. That such a great organisation has continued its relationship with Project Trust for so long is a real endorsement of the hard work and achievements of all of our Volunteers.

Project Trust Gap Year South Africa

Lois teaching in Bethany Children’s Home

4 – There’s a project in South Africa called Helen Bishop Home which was the first project I set up as a Desk Officer, so I will always be particularly fond of it. The three Volunteers there last year were fantastic and it was lovely to see the four Volunteers there this year doing equally well. It’s a very demanding project; the Volunteers work with people with disabilities in a range of capacities from assisting with basic care needs like brushing teeth and helping them wash to providing a level of education. The Volunteers at Helen Bishop Home become very passionate about enriching the lives of people with disabilities and providing equality of opportunity. Anna, who volunteered at Helen Bishop Home last year, was the winner of the best Project Trust Community Report for 2014/15, which included a £100 prize. She’s donated the £100 to Helen Bishop Home, which is a lovely gesture. Anna’s Community Report really highlights the positive influence that a year working with people with disabilities has on a young person. She worked hard and gave a lot to Helen Bishop Home, but learned a huge amount too.

5 – South Africa is one of Project Trust’s country programmes with an Outward Bound project. Outward Bound volunteering offers something slightly different – an adventurous, outdoor lifestyle, lots of camping, and it isn’t as structured as other projects. Volunteers need to have the skills to support young people from a massive range of backgrounds, which gives them the opportunity to meet a real spectrum of people from different communities and cultures within South Africa. The Volunteers develop an understanding of how to work in a physically and emotionally demanding environment. Visiting the Volunteers in early November this year at their base in Sedgfield, about six hours drive from Cape Town, gave me the opportunity to find out a bit more about the programme. The opportunity to teach kayaking, abseiling and climbing in such beautiful surroundings is a bonus, and gives Volunteers the chance to co-instruct, which if they choose to follow Outdoor Education as a career path is invaluable experience.

Learn more about a gap year in South Africa with Project Trust